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Published: Friday, 12/11/2009

Movie review: Everybody's Fine ****

BY KIRK BAIRD
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Robert De Niro, who gives a heartfelt performance in ‘Everybody's Fine', and Drew Barrymore
Robert De Niro, who gives a heartfelt performance in ‘Everybody's Fine', and Drew Barrymore
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Dear Robert De Niro:

Welcome back. It's been awhile, Mr. De Niro - 1997's Wag the Dog, perhaps - since we've seen that old spark in your eyes.

You know the one I'm talking about.

The one where you own every frame on screen, regardless of who's next you; the kind of performance that grabs us by our ears and tells us in no uncertain terms that you are among the leading actors of a generation.

It's nice to see that again.

Sure, no one will call your turn as widower Frank Goode in Everybody's Fine your career moment. Not with the likes of Travis Bickle, Jake La Motta, young Vito Corleone, Johnny Boy, and Jimmy Conway as part of your film legacy. But the role proves that you're still capable of subtlety when we had thought your career had gone the way of parody.

Don't take this the wrong way. It was great seeing you embrace light comedy after years of hauling heavy dramas. In 1988's Midnight Run and again in 1999's Analyze This, you proved you were a natural at making us laugh. (It seems so long ago that we thought you could only do drama.) But somewhere along the way, you lost touch with your serious side.

And no, last year's Righteous Kill doesn't count. Was it just me, or were you as bored by the story as we were? Neither you nor co-star Al Pacino seemed all that thrilled to be playing good cops-bad cops.

It wasn't much of a stretch for you, either.

Not the way Frank is.

Everybody's Fine director Kirk Jones, who also wrote this remake of a 1990 Italian film, gives you plenty to work with and you take full advantage.

Frank is stoic but warm-hearted, and he bubbles with the kind of optimism for his family that only a parent has. Even when his children all stand him up for Christmas he's convinced of their good intentions, so he opts to visit them instead.

Frank's cross-country journey, in which he learns the painful secrets his children have been keeping from him, could've been yet another self-discovery road movie, full of the man-facing-mortality cliches that attracts middle-aged actors who have grown reflective of their own lives.

But you keep it interesting, Mr. De Niro, and so do your fellow cast members, Drew Barrymore, Kate Beckinsale, and Sam Rockwell, who play your children.

It's an extraordinary performance made all that much better by what you don't do. There are no patented De Niro eruptions. Or the De Niro mugs that just about every working stand-up comic has lampooned. You know what I'm talking about.

Instead, you made this simple character complex in the most quiet of ways: the eyes.

In your eyes we see the love, the hurt, the abandonment, the anguish Frank feels. It's all there, boxed up, and only occasionally, in Frank's moments of weakness, is it allowed to poke through.

It's an Oscar-worthy performance, Mr. De Niro. I can't recall the last time I could say that about you in a film.

Look, I know you've got bills to pay - we all do - so I don't begrudge you the next Meet the Parents/Meet the Fockers movie due in July.

In fact, I sincerely hope it's a hit for you, and that you're funny in it. Really.

And if you need to take the occasional break from serious to silly, I get that too.

Enjoy life. Have fun.

Just promise not to forget about the two-time Oscar winner, four-time nominee named Robert De Niro in the process.

If you can do that, then I'll forget We're No Angels and The Fan.

Promise.

Your fan,

Kirk

Contact Kirk Baird at

kbaird@theblade.com

or 419-724-6734.



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